By Morris Dalla Costa
Sometimes you just never know when something good is going to fall into your lap.
The London Lightning hope that is just happened to them this week.
The National Basketball League of Canada team has been looking for a big man in the middle that can play defence, rebound and score from the post.
This week the basketball merry-go-round stopped at the Lightning door and delivered 6-foot-9, 215-pound Dominique Ferguson, a 22-year-old.
The player’s agent called Lightning coach Micheal Ray Richardson about getting a tryout. Richardson then called Ferguson’s coach in college, who happened to be ex-NBA star and executive Isiah Thomas. Thomas gave the kid a glowing review and the Lightning brought him in.
After two practices Richardson has given him the thumbs up.
“He’s going to be here,” the coach said. “He can help us. He’s a centre, a shot blocker, a defender. He’s young , real active, has a real high basketball IQ and he’s a hard worker.”
Richardson believes that with Ferguson’s age and tools, the NBA is still keeping a close watch on him.
Five minutes into a scrimmage Wednesday, Ferguson hit the floor in a scramble, not a usual occurrence during practice.
Tuesday at scrimmage, Ferguson went in for a dunk and hit his head on the rim. That got a big rise out of everyone.
Ferguson is raw but he has a basketballer’s body with long arms and for a big man he runs the floor exceptionally well.
Two years ago Ferguson graduated from an Indiana high school was ranked as a top 20 big man recruit in the U.S.
But the youngster got a lesson in basketball politics and the system didn’t treat him well.
Ferguson was perhaps the most high-profile recruit Florida International ever landed. He was also recruited by Arizona, Indiana and Kentucky.
“I didn’t know anything about the school. I didn’t even know where it was at. It could have been in Anchorage, Alaska, or anything,” Ferguson said. “If (Thomas) would have been there, that’s where I would have went. When he was gone, there was no point in me staying.”
Thomas was fired and that is when politics hit the player hard. FIU refused Ferguson’s request for a transfer, a decision he still can’t figure out.
Ferguson opted to declare for the NBA draft as a sophomore but was not picked.
With no place to play, he went on a tour of China with an all-star team and joined an NBA development league team that cut him.
That, too, was a decision forced on his coach.
“We talked to his D-League coach and he said he wanted to keep him but they brought a couple of NBA players in and that was it,” Lightning general manager Taylor Brown said. “The coach said he should still be there playing.”
Ferguson said he has stopped worrying about it. He just wants to find somewhere to play and get back his competitive edge.
“I’m just trying to work my way back up into the NBA game,” he said. “Right now, I just want to play. It’s not about the money. It’s about getting around guys that know basketball and have played the game for a while. Being around a great teacher like coach. I want to be around guys that are stronger than me, a lot more athletic, going up and down against guys like that is going to make me better.”
For most of the practice, Ferguson was playing against Marvin Phillips, who fits the description of the guy Ferguson wants to learn from.
Phillips is a veteran; strong, built like the proverbial brick outhouse and aware of every trick in the basketball book.
One trip down the floor, Phillips backed into Ferguson and went to the basket. Somehow Ferguson wound up on the floor after Phillips made the hoop. Most of the veterans had a nice chortle about that.
But it was obvious as practice progressed that the young player was popular with his new mates.
Lightning guard Adrian Moss is also from Indiana and knows Ferguson well.
“He’s young but he can really play,” Moss said. “He has a lot of potential.”
Ferguson is motivated. Even though he’s only 22 he’s already seen the good and the bad of the sport. More than anything, he just wants to show he can play.
“I’ve seen the high in high school and then going to a mid-major school not having the best couple of years then and almost falling off when I went there,” Ferguson said. “I’ve seen the bright side and the dark side of things. It makes me grateful for what I went through in high school to be able to get the attention I got. Then I felt how the other players felt, the looked-over players who could play. I know both ends of it now.”
Through it all, Ferguson still believes he has a lot to offer in the game.
“I’m still young,” he said. “I have a long time to play. I try to keep faith with everything. I know if I keep working, they can’t keep me out from where I’m supposed to be. At the end of the day they are going to find you, wherever you are at.”
Considering how he wound up in London, Ferguson understands that now more than he ever did before.